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Group challenges pipeline safety claims

safety claims challenged by Barbara Sullivan
CARNATION--Last week, the pipeline opponents had their say. Earlier in the summer, the Carnation City Council heard Olympic Pipe Line officials say their proposed fuel pipeline from Woodinville to Pasco would be the "the most cost-effective, reliable, and safest method of transport" (as compared to trucks and barges).
   "Not so," said a spokesman from the newly-formed group Cascade Columbia Alliance at last Tuesday's council meeting.
   The Alliance is made up of about 500 citizens who are opposed to the building of the pipeline, most of them landowners who live along the proposed route, spokesman Tim Zenk told the council.
   This has been a steadily growing grassroots organization, which already has 2,000 signatures on a petition opposing the pipeline, said Zenk, who claimed that the group is winning support from local labor unions, water districts, and environmental organizations.
   The proposed pipeline route "crosses at least two sole-source aquifers and 160 streams and rivers, impacting endangered salmon and other species of wildlife," he said.
   Lack of sufficient planning to handle leaks and spills, and Olympic Pipe Line Company's (OPC) safety record are other sources of concern, said Zenk. "Over 400,000 gallons of fuel have been leaked over the past 20 years, 90% of which have been undetected by the company, earning them repeated reprimands from the Department of Ecology."
   Zenk told the council that information provided by the U.S. General Accounting Office shows "pipelines leak six times more than other forms of transportation" (trucking or barge) and that nationwide "pipelines are the number-one contributor of point-to-point source pollution of petrochemical products."
   According to Zenk, the GAO report revealed various problems in the oversight of pipelines--primarily, the lack of oversight.
   The Office of Pipeline Safety, which is the sole regulatory agency, is a federal agency, he said. Out of a total of five inspectors assigned to 11 western states, three are in the Alaska region and one is in California full time, leaving one inspector to handle nine states (Washington included). Other regulating agencies (EPA, DOE) would only become involved after a spill has occurred.
   Zenk noted that "ground movement" or earthquakes are a particular problem in the Northwest. In a recent spill by the OPC in Snohomish, "ground movement" was one of the primary reasons given by the company for the accident. The proposed pipeline route crosses several known faults in the near vicinity, he added.
   Zenk said the concerns local residents have about the planned crossings of the Tolt and Snoqualmie Rivers are valid. The nearest block valve (automatic shut-off mechanism) is near Snoqualmie and the distance stretches to the top of the pass, which is nearly 28 miles. The national average for the spacing of block valves is five to seven miles, Zenk said.
   In answer to a question from the council regarding Olympic's response time in the event of a spill, Zenk said, "They say they'll respond immediately, but they haven't detected any leaks in their area. So far, private citizens or other companies have had to bring the leak to the attention of OPC."
   The Cascade Columbia Alliance also disputes the reasons given by OPC for wanting to build a new pipeline. The Alliance contends the real reason is for OPC to gain a market share over competitors, rather than meet a growing demand for oil that is not being satisfied by the pipelines already in place.
   Zack stated the two pipelines into Spokane and Pasco are only operating at 25% capacity. Even if the additional pipeline was needed, the OPC could have chosen a more acceptable route (mainly following the I-5 corridor), he said.
   Since the company will need to get easements from landowners, Zenk pointed out that they (the landowners) will share liability with OPC in the event of an oil leak on their property. "Under Washington state's Model Toxics Control Act, liability is strictly joint and several," Zenk said.
   The Washington state Department of Ecology has recently fined Olympic Pipe Line Company $7,000 for spilling at least 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel on March 23 into a seasonal tributary of Spencer Creek, which flows into the Kalama River.
   Last Thursday, a pre-hearing conference was held by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to discuss procedural issues regarding the pipeline review process. EFSEC reviews certain energy facilities for approval and permitting.
   EFSEC has already granted "intervenor" status to several groups who have an interest in the pipeline in order to enable them to participate in the proceedings.
   According to a report from Olympic Pipe Line, Cascade Columbia Alliance was declined intervenor status as a representative of Tidewater Barge Lines, but was granted third-party intervenor status as a representative of five property owners actually within the pipeline corridor who were named in the Alliance's petition.
   Tidewater Barge Lines was also granted third-party intervenor status, along with the Maritime Environmental Coalition, People for Puget Sound, Washington Environmental Council, and Weyerhaeuser Co.
   A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the pipeline is expected to be ready in September. A public comment period will follow publication of the DEIS.